EVEN though many people share Theresa May’s exasperation with Brexit, the tone of her Downing Street statement was, in hindsight, very ill-advised. Outmanoeuvred on all fronts as her dwindling authority ebbs away, it only served to alienate the very MPs who she needs to persuade to support her EU Withdrawal Agreement.
Unlike some of the Prime Minister’s previous speeches at a times of political crisis, or national strife, it did little to unite the country when her Government, with just a week to go before the country was supposed to leave the European Union, finds itself having to react to unhelpful rulings by Speaker John Bercow and the EU signalling that it will only extend Article 50 until May 22 if MPs back Mrs May’s deal next week.
Yet neither did the response of those MPs who reiterated their calls for Mrs May to resign. In such circumstances talk can be cheap if they’re unable to offer any viable alternatives at a time when the “Brexit process has sapped our national confidence”, according to Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary and one of the main candidates to succeed the embattled Prime Minister.
However, while families and businesses await the response of the Government – and Parliament – to the EU summit, those looking to offer leadership, and potentially succeed Mrs May, need to start considering the following. How do they intend to unite the country? How do they propose to operate a government that is more effective than the current administration? And how would bi-partisanship work in practice on their watch when the Tories, still the governing party, enjoy no Commons majority?
Irrespective of whether Britain crashes out of the EU in a week’s time, still the default position in law, or if the EU’s tentative offer of a negotiating extension is accepted by a majority of MPs as a last resort, this whole process is causing lasting damage to Britain’s international prestige and status as a beacon of democracy. And while it is still Mrs May’s duty, as Prime Minister, to see Brexit through to the conclusion of its first phase, the turbulence and turmoil of the past week once again shows the urgency of the need to make a fresh start.